Yet another professional journalist who would make yet another unremarkable guy with a weblog. In that role his mistakes would be not especially bothersome. As a professional journalist, we tend to expect something better than this.

Massachusetts’ Move to Open Format Is Closed-Minded I am not sure what the real problem is with using Microsoft file formats. No, they are not open, but they aren’t completely closed, either.

Right - so it makes perfect sense to pull up an old document twently or more years from now, and almost be able to read the document. Public documents should be archived, and some will need to be readable many years from now. An almost-kinda-sorta documented format may be readable in the future, if we’re lucky. That’s not good enough.

As a software developer my guess is that on a pure technology basis, trying to standardize on the Microsoft formats is probably a mistake. Microsoft shipped the first version of Word on 1983. With each successive revision the Microsoft folks have doubtless both added features, and maintained compatibility with prior version. This has gone on for over twenty years! By now both the document formats and the code have likely accumulated a fair amount of cruft - leftover bits that have to be there, but that are not well understood or that do not fit well with the rest of the design. For the Microsoft folks to document all this would be both difficult and a bit embarassing. Not really a good basis for a standard.

At this point pretty much everyone should understand the upgrade-game Microsoft plays with Office customers. Customers feel forced to upgrade with each new version, on the chance that someone might send them a document (from a newer version of Office) that they cannot read. Customers are not upgrading to get new features, they are upgrading out of fear. As long as Microsoft can tweak the default format regularly, they can keep customers on the upgrade cycle.

The last time I was interested in a new version was Microsoft Word 95 - as this was the second 32-bit version of Word. Even the older 16-bit versions of Word were very capable programs, but had trouble with large documents. The 32-bit version had fewer limits, and by the second version they had shaken out most of the bugs from the transition to 32-bit. I have a personal copy of Office 95. Since then I have received licensed current versions of Office through work, but have switched entirely to OpenOffice for all my personal and kids’ machines. OpenOffice is more than good enough.

Looks like some folks who use Word more than I do presently have a similar opinion:

Microsoft Word: Living with the Beast I’m told by true experts that until Word 6/Word 95 it was actually not a bad wordprocessor. It really went bad with Word 97 onwards. This parallels my experience with the old Macintosh version of Word 4 and 5; they were quite useable.